It’s No Longer Okay to Emulate Takei
I’m sure you’re all familiar with actor and director, George Takei. First famed for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, the Japanese-American actor has turned social-media sensation, and activist for social justice, after coming out as gay in his later years.
Like most people, I found great enjoyment in Takei’s posts on social media. He’s funny and charismatic, yet knows how to address a serious topic in a way that will mobilize his fans. 3 days ago however, George Takei made a mistake. He reposted a meme that has become very popular in recent weeks, depicting a woman standing from her wheelchair to reach for a bottle of alcohol. The caption always reads “there’s been a miracle in the alcohol isle.” Disabled fans reacted with outrage, wondering why someone who has such a passion for activism would perpetuate something that is harmful to the disabled community, even as a joke.
I don’t think many people understand why this meme is so harmful. The fact is, many of those who use wheelchairs, such as myself, are able to stand, or even walk. (I can walk a fair way on good days.) However, a great number of able-bodied people seem to take exception to this, thinking that if we can stand or walk, we shouldn’t be using a wheelchair or mobility aid in the first place. We’re often accused of exaggerating or faking the condition for money, or attention, or a plethora of other, stranger reasons. Indeed, I can list multiple instances in which I’ve stood from my wheelchair, or have even pushed it by the back-handles up a hill, and a stranger has
thought it their business to come and teach me a lesson. I’ve been yelled at in public and accused of being “evil” and “spoiled.” In one instance, I was in a dressing room at a lingerie store, and the woman thought it a good idea to verbally accost me whilst I was half naked. Occasionally these instances have had me scared for my safety, yet I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve heard of disabled people being physically harmed by these brutal “wheelchair police,” but that is yet to happen to me. What still shocks me though, is that so many people have stories like this, and yet the non-disabled community still stubbornly insists that all of those in wheelchairs must be completely paralyzed. They’re simply not listening.
The lesser reason why this meme is harmful, is that it feeds into the stereotype that disabled people should not be allowed alcohol, or are not permitted to buy it for themselves. Let me tell you, we’re allowed to booze just as much as you are. And before you say it, no we can’t legally be charged with drinking and driving for being drunk in our wheelchairs, (at least in Australia.) We would be charged with drunk and disorderly conduct, just like the non-disableds.
Instead of admitting his mistake, however, Takei later responded with this post, suggesting that disabled fans need to “take it down–a notch.”
Now, many, many people have reblogged, retweeted and otherwise shared this meme, but there’s particular reasons why Takei following in their footsteps is particularly harmful.
Takei frequently and ferociously advocates for the eradication of homophobia and racism. He calls people out, and speaks openly and honestly about his experiences. Essentially, he seems passionately dedicated to making the world a better place. Although not for disabled people, apparently. By posting this meme, he essentially is sending the message to disabled people, as well as his non-disabled fans, that the struggles of disabled people are not important, and should be ignored so he can get a few laughs. On top of that, by proceeding to tell us condescendingly to “take it down a notch,” he’s playing into the idea held my the majority of non-disabled people: that ableism is a joke, and that disabled people either are not oppressed, or should be treated as lesser because we have deficits.
If a similar joke was made by someone else, about the Japanese, or non-heterosexuals, (perhaps mocking eye shape, or insinuating promiscuity.) do you think George Takei would have “overreacted,” as he accuses us of doing? I think so.
It’s shocking that someone who appears so aware of the oppression of marginalized groups would trivialize our experiences. There are thousands of harmless, cute and funny memes on the internet and yet that particular one was selected.
So George, why aren’t we important enough for you to fight for us, too? Do you harbor some malice against disabled people, or are you simply another example of a person too ignorant to know what harm they’re doing, and too indignant to apologize?
George Takei is considered by many to be the example of activism. It concerns me that many people may now believe this sort of mockery of the disabled experience is okay.
From the general population I expected ignorance, but from you I expected so much better.
I can assure you the sky won’t fall Mr. Takei but, given the number of people to whom you are a role-model, more disabled people are potentially being put in harm’s way, and their experiences will continue to be mocked.
Everyone makes mistakes, but I fail to understand why it’s okay to mock our struggles, yet it’s outrageous and offensive to mock yours.
EDITED: There was an apology posted on social media recently. Further comments on this apology will come soon